Cabin fever 

Babies, beer and bending time up the North Fork

Page 4 of 5

There’s no cell service at Schnaus, which is true of many Forest Service cabins. Forced to stay off Twitter and away from email, we had fewer intrusions to fracture our thoughts. In a world where busyness is a virtue, the cabin gave us permission to be lazy.

Still, if you wanted to fill your day with activity, most Forest Service cabins are close enough to trails, lakes and even small towns that can serve as entertaining excursions. From Schnaus Cabin you can take a day to kayak secluded Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park. The dirt road there, like so many around the North Fork, can’t accommodate RVs, and visitors are usually locals, so it’s a peaceful place to visit. If you’re into fishing or canoeing, the North Fork of the Flathead River has some of the best stretches in the state. If, on the other hand, you’re a sucker for huckleberry bear claws, just drive seven miles from the cabin to Polebridge and sate your appetite at the Mercantile—which is exactly what we did.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Andy Kemmis

Just say “Polebridge” to anyone who’s been there and you’ll see their eyes light up. The Mercantile presents an old-fashioned storefront and a porch stocked with firewood where you can lounge on wooden benches and chairs. Inside, the high-ceilinged space offers shelves of goods. There are touristy knick-knacks (a mug featuring a photo of the Merc will cost you $18), but there are also cool hand-knitted hats and berry preserves, homemade soaps and dried soups, plus general-store necessities like brake fluid and bug spray. But the best part is the bakery counter, where you can browse the bear claws, savory breads and sticky buns. Even in this remote town, there’s always a line waiting to buy the baked goods.

Next door is the Northern Lights Saloon, known for its cooked-from-scratch dinner menu, and as the only place for miles where you can sit and drink a draft beer. It’s a tiny place, cozy like a hobbit tavern. On the night we stop in the special is prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes. We’re looking for something quick and light before we go back to the cabin and cook our own meal, so we order beers and chips and salsa and take it all outside to the large yard full of picnic tables.

click to enlarge Missoula Independent news
  • Andy Kemmis

As we munch, watching the toddlers running in the grass, it begins to rain, and those first few drops feel shockingly cold. I think, like a reasonable adult, “We should go inside.” And then, “Should we go inside?” My daughter puts her little hand out, catching big droplets without flinching. Those gigantic mountains are still so striking, no matter how many times we look at them, and though we don’t state our decision aloud, we stay where we are, letting ourselves get soaked, not letting ourselves interrupt the moment.

Later that night, after the kids are in bed, we stand around the campfire again. We’re free to cut loose, but what do we do? We talk about kids. What are the worst parts of being a parent? Not being able to sleep in. Not being able to easily travel to exotic places. Not being able to stop thinking about all the things that need to be done in a day. What is the best part? They’re funny—bottomless wells of entertainment. Also, the weird, inexplicable and adamant feeling that despite all the things we might miss about being kid-less, we wouldn’t go back. We still want to do the things we always wanted to do, we just have to relearn how to do them—and do them better.

We watch the moon rise over Glacier and try to recall the constellations we learned when we were kids in science class. We can locate only the Big Dipper. We take our time. It’s a good place to start.

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